Don’t let teachers stifle your education

I know a Physics II final that will result in an average grade of an F. The test would consist of questions on physics knowledge that everyone in the class had been taught. The test would be simple too, something even an elementary college physics student outside of Mines could get a C on. What test am I talking about? The Physics I final, of course.

Sadly, failure to remember information from previous classes is a concept familiar to all of us. As we fill our minds with more new knowledge every day, we also transfer a large chunk of old knowledge to our brain’s recycling bin.

While the problem lies in the teaching, the solution lies in the students. A terrible teacher can go on teaching for the rest of their life if none of their students ever tell them they are awful. It’s our responsibility to let teachers know if they aren’t effectively teaching us.

But just what does effective teaching look like? Most of can distinguish an excellent teacher from an educational buffoon. Presented below are ideas that all teachers should follow.

All teachers should encourage creativity. Repetition is boring. We don’t want to end up with a job naming Apple products (hmm, how about the iPrinter?). No great engineer has ever been successful without expressing his or her creativity. Along the same lines, some teachers need to make more thought-provoking questions. It’s silly to penalize a stock market guru just because of something silly, like not knowing what company’s stocks are traded under TGT.

Another creativity issue involves teachers telling us how to solve problems explicitly. Instead, they should teach us the concepts needed to solve the problems, and let us see if we can find the best way to solve them. For example, pretend Joe, a kindergarten teacher, needs his class to color a ball orange. Joe gives his students step by step instructions, telling them to pick up the orange crayon and use it to color the ball. But why tell them to use the orange crayon? Why not use red and yellow? What will they do if the orange crayon is missing? There are always a variety of ways to solve a problem. Do not let your teacher force you into using the orange crayon.

Solving the problem is irrelevant, however, if the teacher cannot present the information reasonably in the first place. Reading text from slides teaches us virtually nothing. Writing on a chalkboard for 50 minutes hardly counts as an improvement. We grew up in the Internet era, where anything is accessible in a matter of seconds. Asking us to focus on a slideshow for the full 50 minutes of class is like asking Kim Kardashian to stay married for more than 3 months – neither is going to happen. Encourage teachers to try thinking of more creative ways of presenting the information.

This is your education that you are paying for. If poor instruction threatens your education, let the teacher know. Do not fall victim to the teaching you receive.

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